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Fake Instagram Influencers: how big a problem is it?

In this article, I review an Instagram report about the state of influencer marketing. Find out which countries have the highest number of fake influencers.

It seems like a day doesn’t go by without some celebrity on Instagram getting in trouble. Just to give you a few examples: not long ago Aggie Lal (@travel_inhershoes) was basically accused of fraud by many of bought her course. Obviously many people stopped following her but a few days later in less than 24 hours, she gained more than 30000 followers. She later explained that someone had bought the fake followers to ruin her account…

travel in her shoes fake followers

Then it was the turn of Caroline Calloway, who was accused of having organized a very expensive seminar only to cancel it when it was about to start (the story continued and I suggest you read the article because it’s a bit more complicated than this).

Finally, recently a report has come out that unmasks many influencers who pretend to be sponsored by famous brands: they post pictures or videos, then they tag them and thank them for their products. By doing so these fake influencers hope to get real collaborations.
Unfortunately, the opposite happens too: someone takes advantage of those who use Instagram to work and scam them, as it happened to several photographers invited by the alleged ex-wife of Rupert Murdock in Jakarta, Indonesia. They had to pay for the trip and some strange fees only to realize that it was all a big scam.

Even if these are extreme examples, they show that Instagram is a very important tool used and often abused both by those who want to be known as influencers and by those who want to make their brands known. This means that there are people willing to reach their goals by any means, which brings me back to the title of this article.

Fake Instagram Influencers, how big a problem is it

Judging by a study released by the site Hyperauditor.com I’d say it’s pretty big. (You can find the full report in this link) For those who do not know Hyperauditor is one of many sites that allows you to analyze any Instagram accounts. You can examine simple metrics such as the number of followers and the engagement rate (how many people interact with your account) and also more complex metrics that are processed by the algorithm of the site called AQS (Audience Quality Score).

AQS is a 1-100 metric developed by HypeAuditor that helps to understand the overall quality of the Instagram account. A score of 100/100 indicates a perfect account (I don’t think anyone can get this score) and a score of 0/100, identifies a completely fake account. Hyperauditor is a useful tool especially for those who want to hire an influencer: it’s fairly easy to see if an Instagram account belongs to a real influencer or a false influencer.

The main problem is that the strategies used by fake influencers often work, at least for some time. I know for example a famous Italian Instagrammer who regularly buys likes and despite this, she is invited every week to very important events in her city. She often travels to tropical paradises and gets a lot of expensive stuff for free.

On the other hand, it’s worth mentioning the incompetence of those who hire these fake influencers. The basic problem is that the strategies to deceive the algorithm of Instagram become more and more complex: if not long ago it was enough to buy likes and followers to cheat the system now there are other more advanced techniques to become popular and end up in the explore page.

Hyperauditor’s report is divided into two parts: the first three chapters examine the general state of Instagram: how many accounts there are, some general stats, what kind of content it’s uploaded daily, etc… The fourth chapter is the most interesting and examines the problem of fake influencers. One thing I want to clarify is that since these data are extracted by an algorithm the results are not infallible.

Hypeauditor defines an account as authentic if it meets these conditions: “a big percentage of real people among followers, authentic engagement and without anomalies on followers and followings graph.”

Fraud-Free influencers

Among the 10 countries examined, Italy it’s actually the country with the lowest rate of fraud-free influencers.

fake influencers in italy

This is a recurring theme throughout the report: Italy is always among the countries with the highest number of fake influencers and Japan seems to be the country with the least amount of fraud influencers.

Audience Quality Score

As the picture explains: Germany, France, and Japan have the highest average AQS, while Brazil, Italy, and the US more often use inauthentic methods of Instagram Growth.

quality of italians account

Follow/Unfollow

Another interesting data concerns the use of a particular technique to quickly increase followers: the follow-unfollow method. In a few words, those who use this technique follow hundreds of accounts for a few days and then unfollow all of them hoping to gain some followers. Unfortunately, it’s a technique that still works quite well. I honestly don’t understand why Instagram doesn’t limit the use of this technique since it’s one of the most easily identifiable. In Italy 1 out of 5 influencers use it. Worse than Italy there is only Russia. The country where this method it’s used the least is, unsurprisingly, Japan.

follow unfollow

Inauthentic Comments

Another very common technique used to deceive Instagram’s algorithm it’s the use of inauthentic comments. The reason is simple: Instagram gives more importance to comments than likes and if it sees that there are many comments it rewards the picture or the video giving it more visibility.

fake comments

Comment Pods

Here things get a bit more complex: there are comments clearly created by bots (classic comments like “wow”, “amazing” or some random emoticons) and comments written by real people with real accounts who agree to comment on each other’s photos. This technique is called Comment Pods and there are groups on Whatsapp or Telegram created especially for this purpose (but the same technique is also used for likes).

To join some of these groups you’ll have to pay since the participants have tens or hundreds of thousands of followers (likes given by accounts with many followers are worth more than likes given by accounts with a few followers). In any case, both techniques are theoretically against the TOS of Instagram. I know several famous influencers who use comment pods.

They are easily recognizable because a picture receives almost instantly dozens of very good comments as soon as it’s posted, but then the flood of comments suddenly stops. I understand, however, that for non-experts these things are difficult to find out.

comment pods

Automatic Likes usage

Finally, the last chart shows the percentage of accounts that buy likes. There are people selling subscription services where all you have to do is to add your Instagram account and every time you post something you’ll receive hundreds of likes minutes after you just posted your content. The amount of interactions in the content just published is one of the metrics used by Instagram to reward or punish an account and many likes in a short time is a nice signal for Instagram.

fake likes

Is it ethically wrong to use those techniques?

sunset over kerkini lake in greece

This is the most important question in my opinion and everyone should answer this question keeping in mind that Instagram does not care much about ethics: if a behavior goes against their guidelines you risk being penalized. One thing I would say is that not all automation is in my opinion wrong.

I spoke on this blog about how Massplanner got shut down. Massplanner was THE bot that allowed you to manage all social networks easily.

The problem is not so much the existence of these tools but how people use them. A bot allows for example to examine all followers and block the fake ones, something that’s it’s honestly not possible to do without this sort of tool. Another major problem is in my opinion the lack of knowledge on the part of those who hire the influencers and pay for their trips (or stuff). It’s fairly easy to find fraud influencers and make no mistake: hundreds of thousands of followers don’t mean that the influencer is legit.

In conclusion, I want to add that as always the most important thing is the quality of the content so I always suggest focusing on producing good content, not on getting good bots. Part of the problem lies in the way Instagram works: changing the way the algorithm works and limiting the number of people reached by each account was not a smart move. It’s very predictable that people will try to compensate for the drop in reach and engagement, don’t you think?

Let me know your score in the comments below and if you want please follow me on Instagram.

In this article, you can find my list of best Instagram accounts. Here you can find my review of Firework, a new social media app.

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